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Zulfiquar-Class (F-22P) Frigate
June 29, 2020
PNS Zulfiqar participating in Thamar al Tayyib-16. Photo credit: Inter Services Public Relations

Zulfiquar-Class (F-22P) Frigate

In May 2006, Pakistan signed a contract with China for four F-22P frigates for the Pakistan Navy (PN).[1] The contract – which included the ships with transfer-of-technology (ToT), six Harbin Z-9EC helicopters, and a munitions package – was reportedly valued at $750 million US.[2]

Today, the Zulfiquar-class (F-22P) frigate serves as one of the PN’s mainstay frigates, mainly alongside the legacy Tariq-class (Type 21) frigate Pakistan bought from the United Kingdom in 1993-1995. In addition to replacing the old Shamsher-class (Leander), the F-22P helped expand the PN’s frigate fleet.

Background

Pakistan started negotiations with China for four frigates in the early 2000s. The earliest official start was 2004, when the Chinese revealed a design proposal of the F-22P.[3] The then PN Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Admiral Shahid Karimullah, said negotiations were in the “final stages” in December 2004.[4]

At the 2004 International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS), the Chinese showcased a model of the design they proposed to the PN. The F-22P was a variant of the Type 053H3, but with a heavily reworked superstructure with reduced radar cross-section (RCS) design elements. But largely identical otherwise.

Pakistan-Navy-Ships-F-22P-Frigate

PNS Saif visiting Shanghai, China. Photo source: Xinhua

The Type 053H3 was the last in the line of China’s legacy Type 053 frigate family, which by that point had formed the mainstay of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). With 10 ships built, the main difference between the Type 053H3 and older Type 053 variants was that it was a true multi-mission design, i.e., it was capable of anti-ship warfare (AShW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and anti-air warfare (AAW).[5]

However, the F-22P factored into the PN’s fleet at a peculiar point-in-time because though it was a multi-mission design, it was using older generation subsystems compared to contemporary ships. It is possible the PN may have intended to configure the ship with more modern subsystems and, ultimately, opted to eschew the option due to cost. Ultimately, the F-22P was similar in configuration to the Type 053H3.

In any case, the PN got the F-22P for a comparatively low cost, likely in the range of $150 million per ship (not including the accompanying helicopters and munitions). Moreover, the Chinese offered a loan to help back the deal. For Pakistan, credit of that size was not common, especially in the West.

Timeline of Procurement

With negotiations starting in 2004 and concluding in 2006, contractual and financial discussions took two years. The total price of the deal was $750 million US. In addition to the ships and accompanying weapons, the contract also included ToT for KSEW and six Harbin Z-9EC ASW helicopters.


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Construction / Deliveries

Hudong-Zhonghua Shipyard launched the lead ship, PNS Zulfiquar, in 2008, and the PN commissioned it in 2009.[6] The PN inducted the subsequent two F-22Ps, i.e., PNS Shamsheer and PNS Saif, in January and September 2010, respectively.[7][8] The PN received the fourth and final F-22P, PNS Aslat, in 2013. Karachi Shipyards & Engineering Works (KSEW) built PNS Aslat domestically under the ToT agreement.[9]

The PN reportedly intended to acquire two additional F-22Ps, an order that would have gone to KSEW (as it gained the capacity to build the ships locally due to the ToT agreement of the original contract).[10] China Shipbuilding Trading Company (CSTC) had confirmed negotiations for two additional ships.[11] However, the PN did not follow through with this plan; instead, it opted for new designs – i.e., Type 054A/P and MILGEM.

Specifications

Karachi Shipyards & Engineering Works (KSEW) listed the F-22P’s specifications on its website.[12]

F-22P / Zulfiquar-Class Frigate

  • Overall Length: 123.0 m
  • Breadth: 13.2 m
  • Depth: 10.20 m
  • Draught: 5.10 m
  • Displacement (Full Load): 2,980 tons
  • Speed: 29 knots
  • Range: 4,000 nautical miles
  • Complement: 183

Like the PN’s other large surface warships, relies on combined diesel-and-diesel (CODAD) for propulsion.

Weapons and Subsystems

It is unclear exactly what subsystems the PN is using onboard the F-22P. However, from observation, one can infer that the F-22P’s subsystems are similar to those in use onboard the Type 053H3 (see below).[13]

Sensors

H/LJQ-360: The H/LJQ-360, also known as the Type 360, is an E/F-band air and surface-surveillance radar. It offers a range of up to 150 km for aircraft and 50 km for sea skimming AShM.[14]

Type 517H-1: This is an A-band or very-high-frequency (VHF) radar that offers long-range air surveillance and early warning capabilities. It reportedly offers a range of 350 km against aircraft-sized objects.[15]

Type 343GA: A J-band radar that supports the HHQ-7 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system. It works in combination with an electro-optical (EO) system, which guides the HHQ-7’s missiles to their targets.[16]

H/LJP-341: The I-band radar serves as a fire-control system for the frigate’s close-in-weapons-system (CIWS) or anti-air guns (AAG). It is also known as the RICE LAMP or Type 341 radar.[17]

Electronic Support Measures (ESM)

The standard PLAN Type 053H3 is equipped with a jamming system, radar warning receiver (RWR), laser warning receiver (LWR), electronic intelligent (ELINT) system, identification-of-friend-and-foe (IFF) system and intercept system.[18] The exact configuration of the F-22P’s ESM was not officially disclosed.

Command and Control

The PLAN Type 053H3 is equipped with the ZJK-3C combat management system (CMS), which is reportedly based on France’s TAVITAC system.[19] However, the PN did not disclose the F-22P’s CMS.

Anti-Ship Warfare

The F-22P is armed with two quad-cell launchers containing the C-802 anti-ship cruising missile (ASCM), which offers a range of over 185 km and warhead weight of 165 kg. The C-802 is among the PN’s standard ASCMs. Besides to the F-22P, the PN also uses the C-802 from two of its four Azmat-class fast attack crafts (FAC). It may deploy the C-802 from onboard its newly inducted Yarmook-class corvette.


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Anti-Submarine Warfare

The F-22P’s anti-submarine warfare (ASW) suite comprises of two triple-cell launchers containing the ET-52C lightweight torpedoes (LWT). The PN also deploys the ET-52C LWT from its Z-9EC helicopters.

Anti-Air Warfare

The F-22P’s anti-air warfare (AAW) capability comes through the HQ-7 or FM-90. The FM-90 offers a range of up to 15 km. It relies command-based electro-optical tracking for guidance.

Use of a Legacy Design

The PN generally adopts existing designs, likely for their maturity and proven service history. The PN could evaluate the ships in real life before proceeding with procurement. This approach is evident in several of its purchases, such as its order for four Type 054A/P frigates, the Hangor submarine, and the F-22P (since it was directly based on an existing design, the Type 053H3).

The MILGEM is a partial departure from this procurement strategy in that the PN will seek a new, heavily modified design (e.g., a vertical launch system). Until that point, however, the PN sought existing designs.

The challenge with the F-22P was not that it was based on an old design, but that the PN selected a mostly legacy subsystem and weapons configuration. By the time the PN commissioned all four F-22Ps, the PLAN had moved onto the more modern Type 054A, which was equipped with VLS-based AAW, for example. In effect, the F-22P was relatively out-of-date, despite it being a new ship.

However, the design itself was capable of carrying more modern systems. The Royal Thai Navy had opted for an older version, Type 053, but modified its design so that it could carry VLS. It is possible that the PN did not opt for a more capable suite due to its higher cost and longer delivery timeline. The PN sought the F-22P to quickly and affordably replace its legacy Shamsheer (Leander/Type 12) frigates.

The PN had reportedly sought to build two additional F-22Ps, but it evidently moved away from that plan in favour of the Type 054A/P and MILGEM.[20] The latter is particularly important in that the fourth ship will result in a jointly-designed frigate with Turkey’s support and, presumably, lead to additional ships.

Future

The CNS, Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi, said that the PN is “modernizing [its] existing fleet of warships and aircraft with upgrades to their weapons and electronic suites.”[21] The PN may upgrade its F-22Ps, and it could pattern the new subsystem and weapons suite along the lines of the Type 054A/P and/or MILGEM.

If the PN is upgrading the F-22P, it will certainly look at replacing its main air and surface search radar as well as ESM and CMS. It is unclear if it would pursue changes to the AAW suite, though if the F-22P could sustain a VLS, then a more substantial upgrade could materialize.


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[1] “Frigate deal with China finalized.” Dawn. 23 May 2006. URL: https://www.dawn.com/news/193615/frigate-deal-with-china-finalized

[2] Richard Fisher, Jr. “Report On the International Defense Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS).” Strategy Center. 29 October 2004. URL: https://web.archive.org/web/20140705191802/http://www.strategycenter.net/research/pubID.48/pub_detail.asp

[3]  Ibid

[4] “Deal in final stages for Chinese frigates.” Dawn. 30 December 2004. URL: https://www.dawn.com/news/378502/deal-in-final-stages-for-chinese-frigates

[5] Type 053H3 Jiangwei-II Class. SinoDefence. 05 September 2017. URL: https://sinodefence.com/type-053h3-jiangwei-ii-class/

[6] Press Release. “First F-22P Frigate Handed Over to Pakistan.” Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. 30 July 2009. URL: http://pk.chineseembassy.org/eng/zbgx/t576099.htm

[7] “Navy gets another F22-P frigate.” Dawn. 24 January 2010. URL: https://www.dawn.com/news/516023/navy-gets-another-f22-p-frigate

[8] “Third F22P frigate inducted in naval fleet.” Dawn. 16 September 2010. URL: https://www.dawn.com/news/889813/third-f22p-frigate-inducted-in-naval-fleet

[9] “F-22P frigate inducted into PN fleet.” Dawn. 18 April 2013. URL: https://www.dawn.com/news/803261

[10] Guy Martin. “Karachi Shipyard to build two more F-22P frigates for Pakistan Navy.” DefenceWeb. 11 November 2012. URL: https://www.defenceweb.co.za/product-showcase/ideas-2012/karachi-shipyard-to-build-two-more-f-22p-frigates-for-pakistan-navy/?catid=112%3Aideas-2012&Itemid=254

[11] Ibid.

[12] F-22P Frigate. Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works. URL: http://www.karachishipyard.com.pk/f22p-frigate/

[13] Type 053H3 Jiangwei-II Class. SinoDefence. 05 September 2017. URL: https://sinodefence.com/type-053h3-jiangwei-ii-class/

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Guy Martin. “Karachi Shipyard to build two more F-22P frigates for Pakistan Navy.” DefenceWeb. 11 November 2012.

[21] Usman Ansari. “Pakistan’s naval chief talks regional security and tech wish list.” Defense News. 04 June 2020. URL: https://www.defensenews.com/interviews/2020/06/03/pakistans-naval-chief-talks-regional-security-and-tech-wish-list/

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